When I started writing seriously back in 2011, I knew the last thing I needed was to start coming home every day from my corporate desk job and spend hours more behind a desk, so instead I learned my craft standing in the bedroom, typing on a little Acer Netbook perched high atop a tall chest of drawers. That worked well enough
Since I started seriously writing, I’ve learned there are a vast assortment of skills I might logically profit by that I just don’t have. And I’m not talking about grammar and spelling, or judging when to use active voice or how to write dialog that sounds true to life but isn’t as dull and repetitive as life—though those are all on the list.
No, I’m talking about the meta-skills, the things writers need to know these days that have nothing (or little) directly to do with writing, skills like using software to create promotional signage and book layouts, reading stories before an audience (or into a microphone for audiobooks), hawking your wares from a comic con booth or yes….begging for money.
That last might seem an odd choice for someone like me with major contest wins and a string of top market professional sales under my belt. But the sad truth is, short stories just don’t pay very much, and unless you hide all the other writers in a cupboard somewhere, it’s almost impossible to sell more than a few per year at professional rates.
So…as I work on the core skills (the prosy ones and the butt in chair, actually writing the novel ones) I started thinking a few years back, that it would be wise if I had a plan in place, should the need arise, to convince the IRS that yes, this writing thing really is a business that will one day turn a net profit after appearances and expenses.
My first step along those lines was to create Got Scifi Group, a small imprint and informal collaborative of some of my award-winning writer friends, for the purpose of producing anthologies that those of us who make appearances and don’t yet have a back list of novels can sell at a measurable profit.
In which I toot my own horn and you ignore me and get on with your life…
I really did have a fabulous year, a year in which I won second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Award contest, met Jeff Bezos and Harry Hamlin (and Spider Robinson) and stood in the spot where the great Edwin Hubble redefined our universe!
But look…free stories for a limited time only!
As you may know, Worldcon is the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society, and while small by the standards of today’s comic cons, it’s one of, if not the biggest, convention for the science fiction fantasy literary trade.
When last I attended, two years ago in Kansas, I said it was like a family reunion, as everywhere I turned I ran into fellow alumni of the Writers of the Future contest or one of the workshops I’ve attended.
This year it was as if the reunion has segued into a ginormous block party. I returned from San Jose with a stack of business cards, a head full of ideas, and an exhaustion so deep, after sleeping it off I found another one hiding underneath.
In addition to my WotF family, my Superstars and Codex buddies, and now my Taos Toolbox gang, I chatted with George R. R. Martin, David Gerrold, Eileen Gunn, Rob Sawyer, Nancy Kress, and Spider Robinson. I met a whole bunch of new folks too–fellow Analog writers, editors, anthologists, producers and even a few local fans.
What I didn’t do was remember to take even one selfie, and depending on your particular tastes, for that I apologize or you’re welcome.
The important thing, though, is I came home with strong leads for a couple of possible sales and contacts for others in the future–and new motivation to write! write! write!
And that’s what it’s all about.
Long time followers know that ever since my Writers of the Future win, I’ve made a tradition of interviewing the new year’s crop of winners and finalists as a way of welcoming them to the writing community. This year I’ve gotten sidetracked a few times, but better late than never. Please join me in welcoming Writers of the Future winner, Jonathan Ficke!
Stuart: Hi Jonathan, thanks for stopping by.
Jonathan: I’m happy to volunteer myself.
Stuart: Tell us a little about yourself, your hobbies, things that would surprise your friends…
Jonathan: Well, I’m from Wisconsin. I’m a woodworker and I built most of the furniture in my home. I kept a blog documenting most of my stuff at warriorwoodwork.blogspot.com.
Stuart: Wow, that’s awesome. Before I started writing, I used to have a life–I mean, do stuff like that too. I even built a barn for my tools. What else?
Jonathan: When I was in 8th grade, my brother and I were hard up for a father’s day gift, and we settled on getting my dad a home beer brewing kit. So I like to say that I’ve been brewing my own beer since I was 14 years old.
Stuart: Ha ha! Too funny!
Increasingly, I’m asked by aspiring writers if I have any advice for getting started or “breaking in” to the writing business. I’m asked this often enough that I’m posting this here so that I can provide a more complete answer than I might otherwise have time for.
First, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a reality check. David Gerrold, author of the Star Trek TOS episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” and The Martian Child, says the best writing advice he can give is, “Do something else–anything else.” The cold hard reality is, the idea most people have of the writing life is a myth. Very few authors can support themselves exclusively through their writing, and those who do often struggle to consistently meet routine expenses like those for insurance and medical care. I don’t say this to discourage you, but rather to encourage realism. If you think you are going to write “the great american novel” and escape your soul-crushing day job, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Even if you are the next Neil Gaiman or J.K. Rolling, there is no guarantee you will even enjoy their success, and if you do it might take many years to pull off. What will sustain you in the meantime? If you want to write professionally, you must be prepared to cope with persistent frustration and rejection, laughable returns on your investment of time and effort, and a level of isolation and self denial that can be corrosive to health and relationships. Plan for that, and you can manage it. Pretend it isn’t true, and likely as not, you’re in trouble. Of course, I learned much the same thing from Rob Sawyer’s website, long before I ever met him, and that’s didn’t dissuade me, and as David says (paraphrasing), if that only pisses you off, if that just makes you that much more determined to prove me wrong, if you feel you have stories inside and your head will explode if you don’t give them life, then welcome aboard, God help you, you’re a writer.
So…how to get started.
I spent Memorial Day weekend in Los Angeles attending the International Space Development Conference and walking, walking, walking…. I was recognized for my Jim Baen Short Story Award placement along with first place winner Stephen Lawson, met renowned scientists Freeman Dyson and Frank Drake (of Dyson sphere and Drake Equation fame), and met actor-cum-space entrepreneur Harry Hamlin and philanthropist and space promoter Rod Roddenberry.
Apparently, there is a romance writer by the name of Faleena Hopkins who is claiming a trademark on the word “Cocky” and harrassing other authors for daring to use it. Some are calling this “#cockygate” and have set up a MoveOn petition to ask the US Patent and Trademark office to annul the ruling. This really isn’t necessary. Here’s why…
Bid welcome, dear followers, to Molly Elizabeth Atkins, 2017 Writers of the Future published finalist, and my guest today on the blog.
Stuart: Welcome Molly! Tell us a little about yourself!
Molly: I live in St. Louis with my husband and two daughters who are 5 and 9 years old. I’m originally from Texas, and I grew up in College Station. That’s where Texas A&M University is, so while some kids had summer jobs mowing lawns or working in food service, my summer jobs were things like shelving books in the university library and working in the university’s various labs. I always love it in job interviews when they ask what you would do if you were given a task you thought was beneath you because I can just shrug and say, “One of my summer jobs was analyzing animal fecal samples for the Rangeland Ecology department at A&M, so once you’ve spent a summer grinding poo….”
As regular readers may know, I won the Writers of the Future contest in 2014 and ever since, I’ve left the welcome mat out for each year’s new class. It’s a great way to meet new friend who I’ll soon be handing with at cons.
In this case, though, my next “guest” has been a friend for a few years now, so please join me in welcoming 2017 Wotf winner, Sean Patrick Hazlett.